The Magistrate's Blog (2005-2012)

This blog has migrated to www.magistratesblog.blogspot.co.uk This blog is anonymous, and Bystander's views are his and his alone. Where his views differ from the letter of the law, he will enforce the letter of the law because that is what he has sworn to do. If you think that you can identify a particular case from one of the posts you are wrong. Enough facts are changed to preserve the truth of the tale but to disguise its exact source.

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Location: Near London, United Kingdom

The blog is written by a retired JP, with over 30 years' experience on the Bench.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

End of the Line

It's the last case of a full day in the remand court. We have long completed the listed cases and are working our way through the late arrivals. A familiar face appears behind the armoured glass dock screen; he is a small man of just about 40, with wary eyes that flick around the room. This must be at least the sixth time I have seen him and he is on first name terms with some of the jailers. His solicitor has left for the day and has to be brought scurrying back from her office to see her client. This is yet another shoplifting case, involving £130 worth of knicknacks from a local chain store. He is well known in the area and CCTV easily showed him as he slipped the stuff into his pocket, so he was smoothly picked up as he left moments later.
He had no possible use for the stolen property, so the irresistible conclusion is that he planned to sell it to raise cash for his well-entrenched drink and drug habits.
The list of previous convictions says it all - over 80 separate convictions for 150 offences, resulting in every conceivable sentence from discharges and fines to a string of prison sentences, a couple of them up in the Crown Court band.
Miss East does her best. Her client is anxious to address his addictions, he plans to go to the local drop-in centre next week, so how about a Conditional Discharge? She sees my eyebrows being raised, and goes on to suggest a fine, deemed served by his time in custody - a blank look from me. So why not get reports, with a view to a community penalty? Probation have long since gone home, as she establishes with a glance across to their bench, so it won't be possible to get an old report out of the files. If we do impose custody, could we at least suspend it?

We retire.

We talk without even sitting down. We all think that the whole panoply of reports and community sentences is a complete waste of time in his case. We have sufficient information to make a decision without their help. Back in we go.

"Mr. McDonald. I will start by saying that you will receive full credit for your plea of guilty". (Not that he had any real choice, but no matter). "We have listened carefully to what has been said on your behalf but while this is not the most serious shoplifting case that we have ever seen, your large number of previous convictions and your repeated failure to respond to non custodial sentences make this case so serious that only a prison sentence can be right. We have sufficient information to proceed without reports. You will go to prison for 70 days. Go with the officers please".
He trudged off, unsurprised, to go through the reception at the Scrubs just as he has done so many times before.

I don't kid myself that what we did will do anyone any good apart from the shopkeepers of West London. At least our man will have a few weeks off the sauce; I am less optimistic about the drugs.

There are, as we all know, severe limits as to what the criminal justice system can achieve.